Days 15-16: The days of in and out roads and Bealach Na Ba

Day 15 started with a dawn walk on the lovely Little Gruinard Beach. Such a great park up with the beach to ourselves first thing. We were then off to explore the area around Loch Ewe. But first we took a small road off toward Opinan and the fascinatingly named Mellon Udrigle, which sounds like something from the Hobbit. The big surprise for us there was the wonderful beach, so we had our second beach walk of the morning. Stunning.

From Opinan we retraced our steps back to the main road. This was to be the pattern for the next few days. Following the single track until we literally reached the end of the road. Always hoping that there will be space to turn round (there always has been so far).

Moving up to the right side of Loch Ewe we reached Aultbea, which shows a lovely big beach on the map but all we could see was a rocky shore. Perhaps it is one hidden from the road, but having had beaches a plenty that morning we continued on to Mellon Charles where there was a Perfumery Cafe. I had a welcome coffee there with an awesome gluten and dairy free lemon and lime cake which was the most delicious thing. The dogs were sleeping off their beach time in the van.

We continued around Loch Ewe, once more taking a road in and out up to Cove, where there is a monument to the Arctic Convoy, the merchant navy and navy vessels that took supplies to Russia during the Second World War. Many perished en route and the memorial on the cliff top above the entrance to Loch Ewe, from which they left, was interesting and moving. I had not known about this before.

Apparently Loch Ewe was critical to the Navy during WW2, due to its natural defences and depth. There are lots of old bunkers along the shore line and a trail of information with stories of how the sailors interacted with the locals (mostly amicably) whom they outnumbered 3 to 1.

The next “in and out” road took us past the unimaginatively but accurately named Big Sand but disappointingly it was within a huge holiday park and I objected to paying to access it especially with so many accessible beaches around.

Our fifth and final in and outer took us to Red Point, another lovely beach but this one heaving with people so we continued back to the main road where we were carrying on towards Kinlochewe. We stopped briefly to see Victoria Falls, which was pretty and very peaceful. Not quite a match for its South African namesake, but a pleasant stop.

It was getting late by this point and we had covered well over 100 miles with all the ins and outs, so we started looking for a park up place. One place recommended on Search for Sites was a restaurant in Lower Diabaig, where you could park up and eat. It sounded attractive but was still a way away so I decided against it and opted for the car park in the heart of Glen Torridon. It is well used by walkers doing some of the peaks in that area, and a spot where Red Deer are known to hang out, but once the walkers left it was just us for a quiet and rather isolated night.

The heavens opened overnight and I was glad we were well up above the burn. The deer clearly had somewhere more cosy to hang out as we saw no sign of any. But we were cozy too and in the morning we strolled out in a brief respite from the rain and followed the hill walking path – but only for a short while. For today we had a major hurdle to cross: Applecross or to give it its Gaelic name: Bealach Na Ba – the Pass of the Cattle.

The weather was not much improved as we started Day 16 and before heading on the coast road to Applecross, we took the small in and out road towards Lower Diabaig, the location of our potential park up from the night before. Boy am I glad I opted for Torridon!

The road over to Diabaig was wild – hair pin bends, 25% inclines and a very narrow single track road. It was beautiful but I was glad I had not attempted it while tired the night before. When we reached Lower Diabaig I looked at the hill down and bottled out. I was not sure if we would get back out again! But this was all great preparation for what was to come later in the day.

We took the easy coastal route round to Applecross. It was drizzly and foggy so views were more limited, but a pleasant run. We stopped at Applecross beach for a rather wet walk on another great beach – and we even came across a little flock of Shetlands sheltering up in the woodland by the side of the road.

After a brief stop in Applecross, we set off to tackle Bealach Na Ba. Wow! What a road. It has the steepest ascent of any road in Britain rising from sea level at Applecross to 2054 ft (626 metres). It is similar to mountain passes in the Alps with hairpin bends and has blind summits and sheer drops at regular intervals. To make it more fun, as we drove up, the fog descended on us and I could barely see.

In reality, visibility was probably 20 feet but when you are on a single track road watching out for anything coming up the other way, that isn’t very far! I was gripping the steering wheel, crawling along, at one point genuinely scared!

But finally we started to descend and come out of the fog and it was worth it for the views that appeared before us. I could have done without the driver who decided to park up on the passing place on one of the switchbacks, and the one who waited until I had reversed back up the hill before thinking that perhaps they could move onto the gravel, and the many who attempted to race round it, overshooting passing places that should have been perfectly usable. And I don’t think I would choose to do it again in a hurry – at least not in a 15-year-old motorhome (although she did brilliantly). But I am glad we did it this time. It was an amazing experience.

I didn’t take any pictures but I have uploaded the unedited final 12 minutes of the descent. Excuse my language! It was a scary experience and I think I was slightly hysterical to have survived unscathed!

When we reached the bottom I stopped at the very busy dog-friendly Bealach Cafe and Gallery and had a wonderful Tuscan Bean soup and a salted caramel shortcake. I think I earned it. I ended up sharing a table with a chap from Dent who was just having a cheese toastie before tackling Bealach Na Ba the other way on a bike! So I felt like a wuss – although he graciously (though I think optimistically) said he thought it might be harder in a motorhome!

After my late lunch break I was much restored so we drove the last few miles to our campsite for the night: The Wee Campsite in Lochcarron. This very informal spot is great – you just park up and at some point the chap comes along and takes your money. And right next door there are pigs! Otter was fascinated and spent the rest of the drizzly evening pig watching from the van window! I made some more soup – carrot and pepper this time. Very nice!

2 thoughts on “Days 15-16: The days of in and out roads and Bealach Na Ba

Add yours

  1. Given the circumstances I think you were quite restrained, Janet! I’d have been screaming obscenities, and possibly crying… Well done you and dogs for managing that. My stomach started churning just watching it.
    Fascination about the bunkers. Could you actually explore them or are they fenced off?


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